Learning is a lifelong process that doesn’t end when we leave the classroom. No degree or amount of experience brings about the end of our tenure as a student, so long as we continue to be open and receptive to the lessons and teachers the universe throws in our path. Every situation we face presents us with a chance to learn. Often, the best lessons are the most painful experiences to go through. We never stop evolving and growing, so long as we still live, and we each face plenty of struggle throughout our lives from which we can learn.
On this topic, Anne Wilson Schaef writes:
“We are a process, and the key to living that process is learning. Mistakes are not proof that we are bad; they are doors for learning and moving on. It is often said of addicts that they don’t learn from their past because they have no memory. If we have no past, we have no present and we have no future.
Everything in our lives is an opportunity for learning. Often, our most painful experiences open doors that must be opened before we can take our next steps. That doesn’t mean that we don’t sometimes have to walk over what seems like beds of hot coals to reach the door. Yet once we reach the other side the learning is there.
Kurt Vonnegut talks about ‘wrang-wrangs’ in our lives, great teachers who are placed in our path. The lessons they teach us are vastly important, and they are taught through struggle, pain, trial, and tribulation. Still, they are important teachers.“
The beauty of every bad situation we find ourselves in is that once we’re through, we can usually look back and see that we have learned something from the experience. Often, it changes us in profound ways. There is no catalyst for great change quite like suffering.
In my life, the experience of losing my mom at a young age to a long, drawn out disease falls into this territory. Death is surely one of life’s better teachers. Losing my mom no doubt has made me a better person. Despite the pain it inflicted, her death has had an overall positive impact on me as a person. I learned to be a little more gentle with myself and others. We never truly know what someone else is going through that may cause them to lash out—to cut us off in traffic, to flip us off, to swear or yell for seemingly minor and insignificant transgressions. We’d do well to remember that, and give people the benefit of the doubt now and then.
Grief also has helped me remember to look at the bigger picture now and then. If something doesn’t go my way or I’m having a rough day, is it really the end of the world? Things could always be far worse, couldn’t they? Losing someone you love gives you perspective on what matters in life. I am more loving, kind, and appreciative of those who are still around. Taking people or time for granted is a cardinal sin to me now. Life is too short.
Think of all the beautiful, amazing ways in which this terrible experience has changed my life. At the time I was going through my grief, it was awful. So much rage, pain, and struggle. So many tears. It felt like my soul had become a black hole that was sucking up every bit of light and happiness from my life. Getting through that was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but it is also one of the best.
Learning comes not from what’s easy or enjoyable. Learning often requires us to be stretched beyond our limits, to go outside of the realm of what’s comfortable and familiar. We learn best when we suffer a bit. They are called growing pains for a reason. Learning lets us transform our painful experiences into more positive ones.